As our Supreme Court commemorates its 200th anniversary, it is a wonderful opportunity to think about how far our courts have come in our effort to be transparent, fair, and accessible to every North Carolinian. As we acknowledge that progress, we must continue to remove those still-existing barriers that make it difficult, or even impossible, for our friends and neighbors to access our state courts.
In November 2005, Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, by order of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, established the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, making North Carolina the 19th state to establish such an entity.
The Commission was created to expand the accessibility of the civil justice system and was structured to reflect the diversity of the legal, geographic, gender, and ethnic communities of North Carolina. The thirty-member Commission is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and includes representatives of all three branches of government and business, philanthropic, academic, and legal aid communities; as well as practicing lawyers.
The mission of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission is to expand access to the civil justice system for people of low income and modest means in North Carolina.
- Establish the right to counsel in civil matters affecting basic human needs.
- Increase legislative funding of civil legal services at the state and federal levels.
- Encourage and support pro bono attorney participation.
- Help pro se litigants navigate the court system successfully.
- Educate the public.
- Increase the role of the business community.
- Include people with limited English proficiency in the justice system.
- Increase loan repayment assistance.
The Commission Does Not Make Legal Referrals Nor Provide Legal Advice.
Why We Exist
In 2018, more than 2 million North Carolinians were eligible for the services of legal aid providers (i.e. with income at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level). Within this low-income population, 71% of families will experience at least one civil legal problem in a given year. Nevertheless, a staggering 86% of these legal needs will go unmet because of limited resources for civil legal aid providers. There is only one legal aid attorney for every 8,000 North Carolinians eligible for legal services, compared to one private lawyer for every 367 North Carolina residents.
Civil legal problems impact the most basic human needs: housing, health care, safety, economic stability, and family structure, among others. Legal aid providers help meet these fundamental needs through providing expert representation in the areas of domestic violence protection, divorce, child custody, housing, consumer protection, employment, veterans’ benefits, and health.
How Can You Help?
Please consider a financial contribution to one of North Carolina’s legal aid providers. A list of providers can be found here.
The North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1 encourages attorneys to provide at least fifty hours of pro bono legal services each year, without fee or expectation of fee. As more than half of those who ask for civil legal assistance are turned away each year because of lack of capacity, attorney volunteers are crucial to ensure access to justice for all in our state, regardless of ability to pay. If you are an attorney and would like to volunteer, please visit ncprobono.org to view pro bono opportunities.
Contact Your Legislators
State and federal resources for North Carolina’s legal aid providers provide much-needed support to bridge the justice gap in our state. However, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the Access to Civil Justice Act and eliminated funding for general legal services in 2017. Federal funding for legal services is often in jeopardy. Please contact your state and federal legislators to voice your support for continued funding for North Carolina’s legal aid programs.
Telephone(919) 890-1090Mailing AddressNorth Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission
PO Box 2448
Raleigh, NC 27602
EmailJennifer M. Lechner
Executive Director, North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission
Sylvia K. Novinsky
Director, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center